Rats, us, and my weak attempt at comedy.

I think there is no species whose narrative has been as forever altered by contact with humanity as the rat. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a life for them without us. Without the excess of our bloated infrastructure to thrive on, I believe that the modern rat would resemble an entirely different creature. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, human kind probably lives closer to rats than to dogs. In that sense the rat is as much a domesticate of ours as we are of it. Where there are people, there are rats. And where there are rats, there are usually people.

We have always had a relationship with rats to some degree. They live in our cities and are for the most part considered to be vermin. They carried the plague, and while the rest of England stopped bathing, fearful that the illness could carry itself in water, the rats thrived as they have done around us for centuries. A common theory regarding cat domestication is that cats were first brought in to kill mice, and cats comprise most of the internet today. So really, rats have already contributed more to the global consciousness than we ever will. This relationship is illustrated in the following pie chart:

Rats Global Consciousness

Our living with rats extends into the modern era, with whole professions and minor Batman villains dedicated to the practice of catching the elusive rat.


Right up there with Condiment King.

They are vermin, we say, and should be controlled. We have an aversion in our culture to rodents. They are everything filthy and, along with the fly, go wherever there is decay. And yet, they are evidently clean animals, though the places they live are not. Isn’t that an awful lot like us, though? We place tremendous importance on personal hygiene but I wouldn’t eat off the streets of New York.

Our narratives bleed into one another. It’s no secret that writers have connected people and rodents for a long time. The mouse in the maze. The metaphorical cheese as a goal for the protagonist. The expression, “Like a rat in a cage”, referring to someone who feels like they’re trapped in a situation. The common theme for all of these ideas? Our relationship with the rat today is fully eclipsed by its role in science. They are a reflection of us. Of our progress and our struggles in a modern world. They are a microcosm of our macrocosm in which our great metal skyscrapers become towering maze walls to confuse and preclude us. We see our similarities; thus we extend sympathy to the rat in these situations that it does not find anywhere else.

When we start to talk about animal testing, the rat transforms, in some ways, into an ubiquitous object of modern scientific progression. Perhaps that is fitting; man and rat inventing the future together. A romantic notion, but true nonetheless. I wonder how many discoveries would have gone undiscovered without animal testing. But that raises another question; one that gets pushed to the side more often than not, a question that many people believe is a pointless one. Do the lives of animals injured or killed as a result of animal testing have any weight? Or rather, is animal testing ethical? I haven’t read anyone else’s post yet so I don’t know if someone has already sparked this controversial topic. I’ll do it here in any case. Do we even have an obligation to these animals? Should scientific progress bow to animal rights or are animals a necessary casualty of modern science? Are animals used in testing domesticates or something else? I would fall under the human-centric persuasion that it is a fair, if unilateral, price to pay for the knowledge attained as a result, beauty products and psychological evaluations not included. I simply mean to say that there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons to test on animals and that we should apply our best judgment to decide which is which.

Dog Sweaters and the Bee

Dog Sweaters and Bees

People and their pets. There is definitely a fascination there that ventures into the bizarre. I’ve heard of pets as companions, but never thought of them as social distinctions. I suppose that it shouldn’t strike me as odd—if people can distinguish themselves with an expensive car, they should be able to do so with different dogs, too. I always thought of dog clothing as being something that our modern, American, individualistic culture invented. I had no idea that animals were forced to suffer in embarrassing Christmas sweaters long before my time and in France. I wonder how animals feel about that? If it were me, I’d be mortified, but maybe somewhere in the dog’s pack mentality it sees clothes as an identifying characteristic of its pack, in which case the clothes might translate into a sense of belonging. I don’t know, maybe I overestimate the dog and it really is just an ugly sweater.

Societies that advocate for animal protection, which Bulliet would likely label as a direct result of a postdomestic society, are described as a part of the “Civilizing process” in this text. Of course, that protection extends only to certain animals. This is the line I found most intriguing:

“Stray cats and dogs quickly lost their standing as pets and became recategorized as “wild” animals, which in many instances also meant that their status shifted from that of an animal worthy of protection to one of an animal that had to be eliminated.”

This rings especially true to me—I thought of the ASPCA commercials with that sad Sarah McLachlan song. How many of those poor, mistreated animals would be seen as vermin outside the homes of their abusers? There does seem to be a certain hypocrisy here.

Also interesting to me is this different categorization—acclimatization, or the adaptation of a species to a foreign environment. If we think about things in terms of wild, domesticated, and acclimatized, then certainly it can also be said that these stages represent a varying degree of human intervention, with wild being none at all and acclimatization being complete intervention (It wouldn’t be there at all without people). There is also the implication that acclimatization involves simply bringing a species somewhere and letting it adapt. How does this idea mix with genetics and the idea that we can influence the genetic level to get desirable traits? Does that make acclimatization a somewhat archaic idea, made obsolete by the study of the genome?

Because my domesticate is the bee, I thought it would be a good way to multitask by ending on it. I found it interesting, though not surprising, that Darwin describes the Bee as being immune to selection attempts by humans. He says this because it is too hard to keep one species of bee from mingling with others. This isn’t something true of insects in general—we know from the silkworm that insects can indeed be changed by human intervention. My question is this—does that make the bee the ultimate exception in the history of domestication? People live with bees, we consider them a domesticate, and yet the bee exhibits no change as a result of this relationship. Before, we agreed that this change in the species as a result of human contact was a requirement to be considered a domesticate, in much the same way that dogs got floppy ears and silkworms lost their flight. If bees aren’t altered by human contact, are they really a domesticate at all? I’m finding myself asking the question again—what is domestication? Is there such a thing as an all-inclusive definition or, as is often the case in other fields, are there just exceptions?


Until Tuesday,


Terrestrial and Celestial

From Terrestrial to Celestial

The readings this week provoked in me some cool thoughts that I thought I’d share. What I keyed in on, and what I intend to address with this post, is something we have discussed before—the difference, or lack thereof, between humans and animals. I think that this is something that really weaves itself into both of our readings for today, but moreso the Bulliet excerpt. I hope enough of this is relevant to the readings to count as a post. In regards Bulliet, I guess you could say that I think he’s noticed something important, but I don’t know if I agree with all of what he says about the objectification of domestic animals.


I don’t know when it happened, when humans woke up and realized they were different. But for as long as history seems to record, we have known it. Whether it is really true or not is something we’ve discussed for a long time, but for whatever reason people have believed it, and that is what is important. Our ability to reason, to abstract, to create, set us apart. And with that awareness came a desire to be unique, to be progressive and avant-garde because we were special and better than the savage world around us. I believe that we are still trying to distance ourselves from what we perceive as an antiquated savagery today. Bulliet mentions bullfighting in Hispanic countries—there is actually a strong anti-bullfight movement in these countries, spearheaded by organizations like PETA, that he does not mention. I won’t extrapolate on it, just know that it exists. It shows many people are ashamed of these cultural practices, practices that have existed for centuries in total acceptance. We grew more ashamed of them over time. The further separation from the human and the animal. But why? I believe it has to do with our mastery of nature. The more distance we put between ourselves and our natural environment, through cities, art, and culture, the more we crave our own uniqueness. And with that comes a desire to establish an identity as humans—not animals trying to survive in the world. Civilization creates savagery, and as it progresses the differences between the two only become more noticeable. Human becomes an adjective and a noun. This is reflected in changing religions across time.

In the beginning, we found apotheosis in our surroundings. The sun, the ocean, the donkey, even reindeer. But from Paganism to Christianity, we abandoned a connection with the earth for a connection with the stars, with the divine, for reasons I think I outline well in above. From the terrestrial to the celestial. We are the apex of perfection; the animal, the earthly, is equated with the uncivilized, the primal, and the stupid. We want nothing to do with these things. Primal lust, including the idolatry of the animal phallus, was beneath us. Thus human religions shifted from the animal to the image of divine people. We are the divine self portrait. Nothing any less deserving of that deserves worship. We deified ourselves because our differences with the natural world had grown too great to even consider it a part of our surroundings. What I find fascinating is that people can have very brutal tendencies and, instead of acknowledging them, we distance ourselves as a species from that behavior, calling it “Inhumane”.

So why the donkey? Even before this reading, I was always curious. Why is the donkey so consistently brought up as an image of mental slowness even though it was worshiped in the past? I don’t know of the ass as being particularly stupid—though I have heard of the stubborn mule. I know Camilla asked this question in her blog post too and I thought I’d provide a response here since it fits. I think it just comes back to trying to distance ourselves from what we think of as the barbaric (Though that is in itself our construction). I think this desire for distance between our idealized image of culture and everything else has grown into total rejection—on both a metaphysical and a cultural (Bullfighting, Asses) level. Even the smaller penises on Greek and Roman sculptures ties back into that—the large penis is a very animalistic image and we, according to our own narrative, are different, better, than that.

Until Tuesday,Bill

Pastoralized Cheese (Get it?)

Though I think Kessler tries far too hard to make us see the romanticism in the goat (I thought the Biblical imagery was so ridiculous that it removed itself from consideration, come on, he’s apotheosizing goat cheese. To me it was such a stretch that it made the rest of the reading feel disingenuous), I was very impressed by the veterinary knowledge displayed in this book. What really got me was the treatment regimen the veterinarian had planned out to combat this disease at a moment’s notice, as though they’d dealt with it hundreds of times. The mechanics of that parasite are also very cool, if brutal. I’ve never been interested in biology before, so this is new for me. I am so curious about how the same parasite can coexist with one creature (And be basically undetectable) and absolutely destroy the nervous system of another. What’s special here? Is it the parasite or the host? I have to assume it’s a combination of both. Can any biology background people provide specifics on that for me?

Anyways, I think what I’m trying to say is that I normally think of animals being so much more fragile than we are—most of them can’t even deal with chocolate (I, on the other hand, couldn’t live without it). In my experience animals get sick, they rarely get better. Hearing how Lizzie the goat lived through that awful (and still cool) parasite has changed my opinion on this. Other mammals aren’t any less durable than we are, they just have different tolerances. It’s a truly complex dynamic. But it’s more than that. We’re never as different or as unique as we’d like to believe—reading the description of the goat kid separated from its group of friends reminded me why I don’t like parties. We’re all social animals. The similarities were so pronounced that I found myself applying personality traits to the different goats. I think Kessler intends for us to do this because he always refers to them by name rather than as goats. He also describes their actions using words that could also apply to people—try reading a lot of these sentences as though they were people, it still makes sense.

I guess I can’t really talk about this reading without mentioning the milk—and by extension, the cheese. I guess it’s not surprising that people can rely so much on their animals—the Eveny showed us that. In fact, it’s easier to get behind goats than reindeer because it’s more familiar. It’s cool that these people actually make money, however much or little, off of it (I assume, it is still the US and we have property taxes unless you’re on a reservation) whereas the Eveny were more nomadic. It gives the lifestyle of the shepherd a 21st century facelift. That said, for however much Kessler tries to romanticize the practice of cheese making, I’m simply not sold on it as a religious/sacred experience. I get that he’s exaggerating for literary effect, but it comes off as a little CHEESY to me. Ha! I’ve been waiting this entire post to say that. It feels good. It feels so good.


A little bit about dogs and us, but mostly us.

A little bit about dogs and us, but mostly us.

As my blog background suggests, I like wolves. Simply from a visual standpoint, there’s something very noble about them that gives them this almost magical quality. It’s not something I could put into words besides those. Unfortunately, for most of my childhood I had terrible allergies and could thus never have pets, so I can’t say I understand when people tell me how much they love theirs. I think it’s because of this I found the genes reading much more interesting than the dog excerpt.

In regards to dogs, though, I couldn’t help but think back to Dr. Nelson’s example of the Russian strays that had only in a few short generations undergone devolution, or a process that resembles it, from dog to wolf. Until now I had considered evolution in the Pokemon sense – once it happens, there’s no going back. But now I see that it’s a little more complicated than pressing B.

The article we read brought up the idea that no species is ever perfectly equipped to deal with its environment. I believe this is true and the evidence is right here. My personal theory is that we would never “evolve” into diseases like diabetes and cancer. That goes against the idea that we adapt to survive.

This is tangentially relevant to our reading, but I thought this would be a good place to discuss it. The idea has been brought up in class that cancer is our response to overpopulation. With some level of firmness, I reject that idea. To me, that implies that there is a sort of collective consciousness that governs which traits do and do not develop. As we learned in last week’s reading and as many of us are likely aware, a species can diverge into multiple species. In that sense, the history of our evolution, I believe, is more tied to our families in much the same way that my Ukrainian roommate can handle his vodka better than I can and has a high metabolism that forces him to eat three meals a day or starve (Keeping ones energy up in those harsh Russian winters). In other words, no matter how closely related my roommate and I are, one could say that my family and his represent different paths of the same species and that therefore we have different traits. He comes from his environment and I come from mine. We both, however, could get cancer at some point in our lives. What I mean to say is this—I don’t think our genes could be aware of overpopulation. That seems like a learned trait, not a genetic one. And if it isn’t a mechanical culling of sorts, what is it? I think that’s where our reading comes in.

What I would instead say is that these diseases (Cancer, diabetes) are the product of scientific progress that has outpaced evolution—we introduce poisons into our systems that our bodies are not yet equipped to handle. I believe that over time, and I certainly think this to be true of diabetes, we will evolve to process artificial sugars and carcinogens such as those in soda better than we do today. By then, of course, we will have new problems to adapt to.

There’s my rambling for this week. Hoping it made at least a little sense.


On choice, fate, and more of the same.

One thing that I’ve always found fascinating is religion and how beliefs differ, or don’t, around the world. The Ancient Aliens enthusiast in me wants to see ancient astronauts in the story of Hovki. Could it be that the midsummer flight to the sun is actually referring to an alien spacecraft? After, there’s nothing in that legend that says it wasn’t aliens. Proof positive? I think so. I do wonder how this idea of flying reindeer got so popular, though. Whether it’s on Santa’s sleigh or in the legends of Siberian nomads, reindeer always seem to abandon their hooves for wings, so to speak.

That aside, there was one idea that came up a few times within the reading and I thought it was worth touching on. The Eveny legends tell of a time when animals (Specifically reindeer) were offered domestication as a choice, a gift, in much the same way that humans are offered the gift of knowledge in various myths. Knowing, of course, that these are myths, it still struck me as a very interesting way to look at our history, which has understandably been human-centric. It’s a mythical characteristic normally reserved for humans but given in this case to reindeer; choices are things people make, not animals. Perhaps that is what I found most intriguing about the Eveny peoples; it was the blurring of the line between the human and the animal, between the physical and the spiritual—distinctions that are obvious and well established in our own culture. There is a connectedness about the way they see the world that is, frankly, beautiful. It reminded me very much of the way Native Americans would view nature, almost as this collective entity of which the human is only one part.

But there is something else about the Eveny, something much subtler, that I think plays into that—Even as I write this, I’m not sure how to go about discussing it, but it will bother me for a while if I don’t try. I’ll get to that in a little bit. The Grandmother on page 277 says “There is a God, who ordains our fate.” The hunter, a few pages before, says that on more than one occasion, animals have been sacrificed to save his life where his should have been lost. Different people are certainly different, but cultures generally share similar values. The question I pose to you is this; isn’t there a bit of discord in that? If someone is meant to die, they will die, and if they are meant to live, they will live. This is the rigid definition of fate that many of us are familiar with; one cannot simply appease fate with the sacrifice of another. The way Vitebsky writes about it, it seems as though the Eveny view fate as less of a law and more of a force—in the way that small objects gravitate around large ones. Fate is the earthbound, the terrestrial, and we are drawn, but not tied to it. This is key, it means that we can escape fate: but how? In the case of the hunter, there is a sentience to nature that can even drive away fate. That can save him even when he should die. There is something extremely powerful about that. Fate is a question central to all people, it unifies us in its scope, and that single question of self determination is the wind that fills the sails of so many religions. The uniqueness of the Eveny is simply this: the idea that nature is stronger than fate. It’s the pastoralism of the Eveny shaping their beliefs. I don’t know how to even begin to dissect that.

That was a bit of a rant and I really hope it made sense/was on the mark, but for now I’ll try to circle back into domestication with a relevant question for Tuesday. Vitebsky briefly brings up this idea (pp. 25-26) of Russian scholars who believe that the “domestic” variant of the reindeer is actually descended from a different ancestor than its wild counterparts. The modern wild reindeer, they say, can’t be domesticated. This seems to mirror Jared Diamond’s own views on the subject, namely that there are species that, due to inherent and immutable characteristics, can or cannot be domesticated. This made me think back to last week’s discussion and our dissenting opinions and it made me curious: which view of domestication is more popular? Of course, popularity =/= truthfulness, but still. My personal opinion, as I’ve hinted in the past, is that we have resources and capabilities today (Technology is often penicillin to problems that were once considered unsolvable. Think tuberculosis/consumption, which has been reduced from a death sentence to an inconvenience in the first world) that our ancestors did not, and before we write something off as impossible it’s important to tackle it with everything in our toolbox. Whether it’s worthwhile to do that is another question entirely. I’m not even saying that I disagree with Diamond, I just don’t think enough has been done in the present day to validate this view.

Questions to frame our discussion this week

First of all, this post is disjointed and it’s by design—because I’m the discussion leader this week, I tried to phrase as much as I possibly could in the form of a question. What I couldn’t implement into a question I tacked onto the beginning.


I found Bulliet’s ideas about predation and its role in domesticity very interesting, but not particularly revolutionary. What I did enjoy were his references to benefits of domestication; namely going back to our Endangered Species conversation in which there are nonmaterial benefits to be had for domesticating a species.

One thing that did bother me (But not enough to write 1000 words about) was the way Bulliet handled ancient peoples. I think it’s very easy to peer into the looking glass and see ancient civilizations as overly simplistic, even though there are quite a few fields that they knew more about than the average person living today like, for instance, astrology and astronomy. In other words, I feel as though Bulliet discounts how much they really about the world they lived in. He contests that it’s impossible for an ancient civilization to see the immediate benefits in milking cows. Maybe it’s true that they had no idea how nutritious milk is—but is it also fair to say that they were incapable of milking cattle or seeing the use in it? I will come back to this shortly.

With my miscellaneous musings aside, here are some questions to frame our discussion on Tuesday. I seriously doubt that we’ll get to everything—I write down all of the questions that I ask myself during the readings. I’ll pick the ones I think are most important and pose them to you when we meet, but in the meantime feel free to approach any of them for comments.


  1. Was domestication accidental or intentional? Is there such a thing as a universal process of domestication, or are there many paths that lead to the same place? Is the intent behind domestication even something we can theorize about without being inside the heads of our ancestors? To that end, is intent as important, more important, or less important than the end result?
  2. In the first part of our HHH reading, Bulliet clashes with Jared Diamond in regards to whether or not species who have yet to be domesticated can, in fact, be domesticated. Diamond argues that a lack of economic motive prevents these species, such as Bison and Moose (Mooses? Meese?), from being widely domesticated. He also goes on to say that these undomesticated species have inherent qualities that prevent them from being susceptible to the process. How much truth is there to Diamond’s claims? Bulliet counters by citing several hypotheticals and studies. Did he convince you that Diamond is wrong?
  3. Mostly a fun question, but Bulliet has some interesting ideas about the role of predation in perceived docility. For him, animals that live in a predator-free environment become less excitable over time, and this can give the impression that such animals are tame. Do you think that the squirrels on Virginia Tech’s campus fall into this category?
  4. Though Bulliet only mentions it in passing, I thought it was interesting enough to pose again here; Are humans a domesticated species? Personally, I have no idea but I think it’d be fun to talk about.
  5. Bulliet spends a long time talking about primary and secondary motives for domestication. What do you think about that? What possible reason could early peoples have had for taking care of animals that they could not milk or shear for wool, even though today that is their established “purpose”?

My personal opinion is that Bulliet over-thinks the issue and in doing so underestimates both the ability of ancient peoples to find uses for animals and the temperament of the animals in question—I don’t think it would have taken as long as Bulliet suggests for an animal to become comfortable enough around humans to let them shear or milk it, especially if the animal were raised by humans from birth. That doesn’t even necessitate domestication, only taming. And surely even ancient peoples could have realized the benefits of, for instance, shearing sheep for their wool. Is that really as big of a logical leap as Bulliet seems to think.


6. After a brief overview of other people’s posts, I noticed an interest in the part of the reading about sacrifices. Though that chapter did not pique my interest as much as it did the interests of others, I think it’s worth discussing. What is the relationship between domestication and animal/human sacrifices?

7. We got into this a little bit last week with the idea of stewardship, but it was raised again in the Ingold article. Do humans and animals exist in different worlds? He discusses humans and nature as almost a master-slave relationship, in which humans dominate nature. Is this quality, as Ingold seems to imply through his references of Darwin’s time in the Tierra Del Fuego, acquired by us over time or is it somehow inherent?

8. What do you think about Ingold’s idea that the relationship between one of hunter and prey is one of trust? The first time I read it, it struck me as a little too romantic and while I think that a lot can be said regarding the idea that our relationship with animals today is one of domination (Look at the meat industry), I’m just not convinced that there is all that much to the “Trust” side of his essay. Though he describes it as a relationship between hunter and prey, it seems more to me like he’s describing a unilateral relationship between people and nature.



I hope my questions were on the mark more often than not. There’s so much material for this week so it’s a little daunting to frame by oneself.


Until Tuesday,



Food for thought: my problems with this excerpt

I am going to take a different approach to this than I think many will because, while I enjoyed the reading as a whole, I would like to focus on an argument that I found extremely unconvincing. The argument in question that really got to me is on page 21. He describes the thought process of filmmakers as they decide what species of animals to cast in screenplays. Here are a few things I picked out. Bulliet writes:

“Today’s audiences are uncomfortable with portrayals of wild mammals – note the stress on mammals – as dangerous to humans.”

“Reluctant to present the hunting of mammals as acceptable or cast wild carnivores as villains, filmmakers have cast less closely related vertebrates – birds, snakes, alligators, dinosaurs, sharks – as frightening animal adversaries, hoping as they do so that audiences will be willing to accept screenplays that located a malign intelligence in the often peanut-sized brains of these menaces”.

Bulliet makes a critical assumption here. In fact, his argument in this section depends on it. He assumes that audiences are uncomfortable with the idea of hunting mammals being acceptable. Ignoring people for whom this is obviously not the case and enjoy it as a hobby, I would argue that with the prevalence of violence on television and in video games, people are about as desensitized as they can get. In addition, the genre of film he references here is the genre of Anaconda and Jaws: in other words, the genre wherein numerous people are killed in nasty, gruesome ways by some unseen predator. It doesn’t matter if it’s Bambi’s dad; if he’s goring teenagers at Make Out Point, few people outside of PETA will draw issue with his killing. But therein lies the issue; which is more threatening, Bambi’s dad or Jaws? Which one is a horror writer more likely to write about?

Bulliet presents his argument as though audiences have some sort of moral qualm regarding mammals in horror movies, he even implies that audiences would reject a screenplay featuring a mammal villain. People, to use Bulliet’s example, would indeed be less likely to watch a horror flick about a killer tiger, but I posit that it’s not because they perceive mammalian camaraderie or intelligence within the tiger, it’s because tigers simply aren’t frightening unless you’re being mauled by one in real life! The reason people would reject such a screenplay isn’t about morals, it’s a very black and white issue; visually, mammals are not horror film material.

Filmmakers don’t just want an animal that kills in a scary and unfamiliar way–mammals have an eating process very identifiable to us, as opposed to snakes swallowing their food whole or ants carrying you off to feed to the queen– they want something that would still be scary when written in comic sans. In addition to the fact that people get mauled by mammalian carnivores all the time (So we get desensitized), there are no deep-seated human phobias against mammals like there are with snakes and spiders. Simply put, bears, tigers, elephants, etc, do not give us the heebie jeebies. It’s not about intelligence or cross-species sympathy. It’s all about what’s visually scary and impactful to the viewer, ie what will gross the most at the box office.

Bulliet also ignores what is, to me, the crux of this issue – censorship! That’s right. Film censorship was extremely common until, in 1952, the Supreme Court ruled that films fall under the first amendment right to free speech. Before then, detective shows would depict the detective standing over the body (blood was never shown), the camera angled so that the viewer did not need to see anything unsettling. I imagine that the likes of Jaws eating the little boy and his yellow raft would have fallen under that label. With the censors down, producers were suddenly given new license to push past the government established boundaries of yesteryear. This is why we see Them! in 1954 and later Alien in 1979. It is not, as Bulliet suggests, the natural evolution of filmmakers trying to distance sensitive and uncomfortable audiences from “evil” mammals. It is simply filmmakers finally being allowed to push the boundaries that, I would wager, they had wanted to for a while.

Ironically, Bulliet himself reinforces this for me by referencing birds. This, I can only assume, is a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963). Birds aren’t visually frightening like snakes, but Hitchcock is a master and could –make- them scary. If someone could write a convincing screenplay about a killer Shiba Inu or Fennec fox (I exaggerate here, but I hope my point has been made), I think people would watch it regardless of how intelligent a species is. Bulliet misappropriates a lack of diversity within a specific genre to a deliberate, thoughtful exchange between a progressive audience and amenable filmmakers.

That was a long rant, but I can basically sum it up in a couple sentences for all you TL;DRs out there:

It isn’t that audiences are uncomfortable with mammals in the villain role and filmmakers respond by casting non-mammals. It’s that mammals are not perceived as threatening and therefore a film producer whose goal is to scare will not cast them, as they make for an unconvincing monster in all but a few, rare, unique circumstances. It all comes down to what makes money.

I hope it came through as clearly as I intended. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but something about this is like watching an episode of “Ancient Aliens” wherein Dr. Georgio “Crazy Hair” Tsoukalos tries to convince me that the likes of Da Vinci and George Washington were actually extraterrestrials. Tell me I’ve lost the complexity of Bulliet’s argument. I’d like to hear that because it would make tomorrow’s discussion more interesting for me. If my argument did not make sense to you, please let me know in the comments section and I will try and rephrase my ideas. But in the mean time, I leave you with this:



Domesticating Endangered Species

When I read and watch things like this I tend to try and find one word that I think sums up a good portion of the phenomena. In this case, I think “mutualism” is the best word for domestication in “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Humans domesticate goats, and even wheat. The humans weed out the less desirable varietals of wheat and the goats eat the remainder, thus increasing the dependency of the goats on humans, engendering a stronger generation of wheat (which means stronger people) and supporting an alternative source of nourishment at the same time. Thus the cycle repeats and benefits all species involved.

I have to wonder how the worldwide populations of certain species (Elephants, for instance) would be different if they were capable of being domesticated. I imagine there are quite a few endangered species that, if domesticated in the past, would not be so scarce today because their lives would be more stable, more controlled. I also find it interesting that some species do very well in captivity while others, such as pandas, rarely deliver healthy cubs when behind bars. Is it just stress?

It’s also worth noting that domestication changes these animals as well. Silkworms, for instance, have been domesticated for thousands of years. Over time, the moth form of the silkworm actually lost its ability to fly because it simply did not need it in captivity. Today, silkworm moths that can fly are considered very rare. The trained dependence on humans has made it so that this species would not be able to survive in the wild. I would also guess, however, that the silkworm’s being an insect and therefore reproducing much faster than mammals will also cause it to adapt to changes in its “Norm” environment much faster than say, a goat, which may not be all that different today than it was in the time of hunter gatherers.

What really captured my interests in the readings for this week were their implications on the present day. I mentioned this briefly already, but in the last hundred years or so, we’ve begun to do something that we either didn’t try to do before or didn’t have the tools to do: namely preserving endangered species. This interference with natural selection is, in my eyes, something new for us. If we’re successful in saving, for instance, the tiger, how will that species change? Does saving an endangered species necessitate domestication or dependence as in the case of the silkworm? If its wild habitat is gone (Which, along with being hunted for their pelts, seems to be the main reasons their population is dwindling), the only alternatives for this animal will be to adapt to other environments or die out. If people intervene in this natural process, the tigers that can adapt to life in some form of captivity will survive and reproduce, and those that cannot, ie the wilder tigers, will die out. Isn’t that a form of domestication? A change in the demographic of a species brought on by human intervention?

I realize as well that a key aspect of domestication is this idea that the relationship between humans and the animal is mutually beneficial. I can’t see any tangible benefit for humans saving tigers; they won’t be plowing fields or doing heavy lifting. But what about the satisfaction for the groups trying to save them? Does that sort of intangible benefit even count?

I could be completely off the mark in my theorizing on this subject. I may well be over thinking this to an extreme degree, so please tell me if you think I’m treading into a different area of discussion.

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